by Charley Harper
I certainly don’t need a board book for my fifth and eighth graders, but I might have to buy this one anyway just for the artistic value. The lovely and interesting illustrations of Charley Harper are completely the point of this (mostly) animal ABC book. Alphabet book connoisseurs are probably wondering about “X,” and I’ll tell you that it is not “Ox.” Oh, the suspense.
Charlie and Lola’s Opposites
by Lauren Child
What can I say? I love Charlie and Lola. I love the original books. I love the show. I love the books based on the show. And now I love the board books written from the success of the show based on the original books. The books are very simple in text big and small, many and few but Child’s illustrations are wonderful.
Cat and Dog
by Jane Kemp, Clare Walters, and Linzi West
It’s surprising that it took three people to produce books this simple in both words and pictures. I also think that the two books could have been smooshed together maybe into one of those flip-over books so you’d get more bang for your buck, because seven pages isn’t much book. That said, they are cute books about, respectively and most obviously, a cat and a dog. Fun, lively pictures.
Pennies for Elephants
by Lita Judge
In 1914 the children of Boston raised more than $6,000 to buy elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. This is a fictional story of two of those children. And it's a lovely one. In a time when every penny mattered children did chores, had fundraisers, sold lemonade, and donated their birthday money to buy elephants for their zoo. The Boston Post ran daily stories for three months and listed all donors in its pages. Beautiful illustrations take the reader into a time nearly a century ago, when things seemed simpler. Artistically rendered newspaper articles reenforce the history and reality of the day. As the children collect enough money, it's a triumph that echoes through time. The message of personal responsibility and making a difference are shown, not lectured. The concept is inspirational, and is captured well in words and art in this magnificent book. Not to be missed.
The Zoo I Drew
by Todd Doodler
With its unique fluted cover giving the book a tactile experience before you've even begun, it may be hard to get your child to stop running his hands over the surface so you can start reading. Okay, it was hard for me to open the book because I couldn't get over the unusual cover. But once inside, we're treated to a bright and bold trip through the alphabet and the zoo. The artist takes a few liberties along the way, but it's well known that someone needs to name an animal species Xervies to save alphabet books everywhere. Each page tells a little bit about the featured animals in a casual way. Or that's how I'd prefer to read the text, because it's actually set up in rhyming pairs that often seemed forced in rhythm or in rhyme. If you don't try to sing-song the text, the bits about different animals are fun and minimally educational. Kids will be transfixed by the pictures. (Note: libraries are going to have a hard time with this book because the cover is not going to keep its loveliness with check-outs and shelvings. Sorry.)
by Adam Rex
A trip to the zoo like no other is represented in this fantastic picture book. As a girl tours through the zoo, the animals call her over ("Pssst!) and ask her for different things - a new tire, trash cans, and more. Each animal has an explanation for what they need, though the ending of the book presents a different idea. The humor in ingrained in every aspect of the book. In the sketched portions of the book, look for the clever signs ("I Am the Walrus, koo-koo-kachoo") and offbeat artistic representations (a rhino rolling around in a huge hamster ball). As the girl converses with the animals, the pencil sketches are mixed with breathtaking painted illustrations with the drama building in art and story to the funny ending. This book has something for everyone and is one of my personal favorites.
For me, summer means car trips and lots of them. Our family has gone the portable DVD player route at times, but the kids generally listen to music, read their books, or play Nintendo. But since they were little, we've always had some different kinds of books at hand for when traffic takes its toll or the batteries die.
1) Audiobooks are great for passing the time in the car and feeling like you got some book reading accomplished. I've found that the ones that hold our attention are either funny, adventurous, or familiar. With younger kids in the car, it can be difficult to find the book that works for everybody, so compromise must be employed. Personally, we've had the most success with the Junie B. Jones series. The books are funny, the reader is great, and the stories are familiar. It's also helpful that each book is only about thirty minutes of listening time, so they are perfect for that last hour of a trip when everyone is getting cranky. For older kids, I'd also recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events, read by Tim Curry. Again, these work best when you already know the story as it makes it easier for everyone to follow along.
2) Question books can turn a long car ride into a wonderful opportunity to share stories and memories. Not sure what a question book is? Well, I may be making up the genre as I'm only aware of two such titles for kids, but both are excellent. Ask Me features an interesting photograph or illustration on one page and a question on the other. Questions like, "What do you wish you could do really well?" and "Where do you like to hide?" Another title, Could You? Would you?, by Trudy White features whimsical drawings along with the questions. Sometimes the questions are offered alone, like "Would you like to dance with animals or look at plants?" But many times include follow-up questions or a few ideas to start you off. So, "What makes you smile?" lists pineapple and big goldfish in a pond. Both books are wonderful to start you talking to each other.
3) Find It books are very popular anyway if my library requests are any indication, but a car trip is the perfect place for them. You may buy yourself a reasonably quiet hour only punctuated by an occasional "Found it!" Where's Waldo? series is famous, and the I Spy series by Jean Marzollo isn't far behind. I've also seen these types of books for TV shows and movies, ocean life and museums. I keep one in the car at all times, because you never know when a trip across town can go terribly wrong.
What books have made your car trips bearable?
Ten years ago, nonfiction books about animals would feature a block of text on one page with a second-rate photo on the opposite page. Then came the trend -- still popular -- of having several text boxes, a few photos, several captions, and maybe a "fun facts" box -- the busy look catering to the short-attention-span crowd. But recently, a new generation of books is putting more focus on the photos, with amazing results. Here are a few series to look for, each with a representative book featured.
Face to Face with Dolphins
by Flip and Linda Nicklin
Wonderful photos fill whole pages, drawing you into the scene. But with National Geographic as the publisher of this series, we can expect pretty pictures. What is special about this book is how the photographer recounts his experiences taking the pictures and yes, it makes more of a connection to the photo of the Amazon River dolphin when we know that this was the dolphin that was playfully nibbling at his ankles as he shot the picture. There are lots of the usual facts about dolphins too, but the text has a personal, almost conversational touch to it. The book has little sections throughout How to Swim Like a Dolphin, How to Speak Dolphin that allow the reader to copy the dolphin's style for a little fun and games. The series, Face to Face with Animals, also investigates sharks, lions, frogs, penguins, orangutans, wild horses, cheetahs, gorillas, and more.
Parrots (The Wild World of Animals)
by Jill Kalz
The text is pretty standard, informational stuff -- but the photos are spectacular! One huge, stunning, no-borders, full-page picture, with text in a box over the photo itself. Some of the pictures fill up the two-page spread. Now with a subject as colorful as parrots, this style is exceptionally stunning, but you'll also relish the chance to explore many other topics in the series, The Wild World of Animals, including koalas, lions, dolphins, and swans. The series has been around for a while, so you'll want to look at the redesigned books published in 2006 or later.
Butterflies and Moths
by Nic Bishop
Amazing photography, interesting facts, and fantastic design makes these books standouts among the standouts. In this title, Nic Bishop gives us magnified photos of moth eggs and caterpillar legs. Or was it the other way around? Either way, stunning camera work. At the end of the book, Bishop shares stories about how he captured some of the best shots, including a story of a last-minute flight to Costa Rica to see a particularly rare caterpillar before it turned to a pupa. He takes his time with each book, so only two other titles -- Spiders and Frogs -- are available now. Another, Marsupials, comes out in the fall.
I'm heading to the shore for the holiday to see family and fireworks. I can't bring you along, but I can suggest some fun picture books about the beach. Enjoy.
by Suzy Lee
I heard great things about this book and I had to see it for myself. As it turns out, I could have waited for the movie. Truly, this is a beautiful book wordlessly chronicling one girl’s encounter with the ocean. The book’s gutter gives a sense of a barrier between the cautious girl and the playful waves. As she gets braver and feels more invincible, she finds that the ocean has many surprises. A lovely summertime book combining light charcoal sketches and brilliant blue-painted sea.
Bebé Goes to the Beach,
written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Bright, stylized illustrations put Bebé and Mama at the beach following their previous shopping trip. Spanish words are used throughout the rhymes, often with context and pictures explaining the meaning of the words. (If you get stuck, there is also a glossary.) For instance, take this couplet: “He’s wearing his gorro with fuzzy jirafas./Mama parks her silla and puts on her gafas.” You could make some good guesses, but it’s certainly easier with Bebé sporting a hat decorated with giraffes as mom puts down her chair and puts on her glasses. In this story, it seems that the baby is a bit of a handful zipping around the beach, but mom still gets a chance to have fun with her son.
written by Lynne Berry, illustrated by Hiroe Nakota
I loved the art of Duck Skates, so I was all psyched for the new title. I enjoyed the cute story as five ducks head to the beach and swim, snack, play, and fly kites in a gorgeous blue sky over an aquamarine ocean. Light and easy sing-song rhymes keep the book fun: “Five little ducklings, hand in hand, skip from the boardwalk, into the sand.” Fun book for preschoolers and anyone who likes really cute ducks. I mean, they are really cute ducks.